With the rise of the iPod and iPhone numerous companies have sprung up aiming to replace your white designed in California, built in China ear buds that have become synonymous with our culture. In ear monitors (IEMs) are the newest “cool thing to have.” They are usually the nicest pair of headphones one can buy without being labeled as an “audiophile.” Headphone companies began springing up like ants chasing after a picnic, some have labeled themselves as the brand for the stylish, others the runner and some the business person. Shure is not one of those companies. Shure made microphones, really good microphones and they still do, but for those of us not trying to be the next Springsteen; Shure makes headphones. When Shure introduced the e5’s at the end of the decade, the flagship model became the favorite amongst the people involved with this thing called music. Before they revamped the entire product line, Shure unveiled a new flagship earphone, a tri-diver model called the E500. While the branding as a name (that is also a car made by a German automaker) only lasted for a couple of months, the internals remained unchanged and found their way into the gloss-finished buds that are now known as the SE530 (not a car currently made by Mercedes.) The monitors themselves are not gold, but the cable is and more importantly the music that flows out of them, is as rich as that precious substance.
Well, first of all, no one likes listening to your Kanye West when they are sitting right next to you on the plane, they want to sleep; but keeping out the noise is more important then keeping it in. More importantly IEMs accomplish two tasks at once. First, they isolate use from the noise. They don’t actively cancel the noise out like Bose has been so famous for doing, rather they passively prevent the sound from ever reaching your ears. Bose and other noise-cancelling headphones have a microphone built into the unit itself, it picks up the sound around you and then recognizes the sounds and produces sound waves that will cancel out the ones around you. IEMs rely on simply creating a tight seal with the inner part of your ear, not allowing it to ever come in. Shure even includes a foam tip that resembles what a standard ear plug looks like, as they function in identical ways. Secondly, IEM’s produce extremely good sound quality, not only do the drivers (mini-speakers, things that produce the sound) that come in IEMs tend to be much better then your standard Apple headphones, but because the tight seal with your ear has occurred, the sound goes straight to your ear, rather then bouncing around and escaping through cracks in between your ear and the headphone. They also produce pure sound as opposed to what comes from active noise-cancelling headphones which has been tainted by the additional waves used to cancel the noise. There are also two other significant benefits over active noise-cancelling headphones: first is that they require no additional battery and secondly that they are much smaller, similar to your standard Apple headphones.
Out of the Box:
While Shure packages the rest of their product line in standard plastic, the SE530s get the grand treatment. A aluminum cube contains your earphones, additional tips, cleaner, case, cables (including different extensions sizes and a two prong airplane adaptor) and other manuals. These are headphones, so it’s a fairly simple task, well sort of. While your Shure’s will definitely work straight out of the box, you want to break them in, so that they achieve the best sound. I recommend playing them for 20 hours at about 75% volume on your iPod, iPhone or computer (if you are using some sort of external device or amplifier, headphone or not, adjust the volume.) This breaking-in period will improve the sound, but it always will naturally occur just by usage, but doing the as mentioned steps obviously speed the process up. The other and more pertinent part of “set-up” is finding a tip that you like. Everyone is different, so Shure includes three different sizes of their normal buds, as well as foam buds that should form to any ear. Finding the seal is the most important part of truly taking advantage to any IEM.
It’s an earphone, so it’s not bulky. Obviously it does not look like your white earphones, but it might match your black iPhone/iPod a tad bit better. The earphone it self has a unique look that is made to fit nicely in your ear, matching the curves of most ears.
Why the this product?
There are a lot (no seriously, probably about a hundred) headphones or earphones one could classify as a competitor to the SE530 ranging from other IEMs from companies that cater towards musicians to the Bose line of noise-cancelling headphones to at home only use of audiophile cans. What sets the Shure apart is that it is the gold standard for most people. Across the IEM market the headphone that used to be the test was Shure’s older flagship the e5; the SE530, while being the younger brother is also the bigger and stronger brother. The Shure SE530 employs a tri-amplified system: one driver produces the treble (highs/mids) and the other two produce the bass (lows). It is important to note, that they are claimed to be the same monitors, just handling differing jobs. There are a lot of technical specs that are impressive, but this review won’t include them, but we can guarantee whatever Shure’s engineers came up with, they did a good job, a real good job. When you are spending this much money, you want to do your research. There are some IEMs that are targeted more for certain musical likings (Jays for bass-intensive thing, Etymotic makes some nice acoustic sounds,) but Shure is the unquestioned king of the best overall category.
It’s the Gold Standard
When any new earphone comes out, most people probably would chose to compare it to Apple’s products, those who know IEMs compare it to Shure. The sounds that you can discover through the SE530s are amazingly reproduced in near perfect balance. Whether you want it to you it with your iPhone or hook it up to your hi-fi system via a headphone amp, the SE530 is a very good option for both. The debate is definitely in full swing about whether it is the best, but unless you want to go visit a ear specialist to get molds for your four-digit priced Ultimate Ears’ UE10s or UE11s, there is no debate. Even if you do drop a thousand plus dollars and send your ear molds to Irvine, CA, we still think Shure has Ultimate Ears beat. Owning a pair of UE10s, the purity of sound is unquestionably better in the SE530s. More importantly what’s needed to power your SE530s is the smallest amongst the top-end earphone/headphone markets, something that iPhone/iPod users most take note of. Even if someone made a better earphone then Shure (which we do not) the added pain of caring around a headphone amp or plugging in a DAC would make one question if it really is “better.”
1. The SE530s pictured are approaching their two year birthday, Shure boasts an absolutely incredible customer service team, but earphones are known to have cable cracking (stiffening of the cable and then further damage leading to wires exposed.) If you purchase from an authorized Shure dealer (see below), don’t worry because they are a great company and you will have a perfectly working set of IEMs back in a couple of weeks, but you seriously will start going through IEM withdrawal.
2. They are costly, but it’s gone down. You can purchase them from Amazon for around $300, which is significantly less then the $500 dropped when these were first hitting the shelves, but still not cheap. Headphones get lost, stolen, thrown in pools, etc, but if you are responsible – the costs are not so bad. eBay used to be the way of choice if you didn’t want to drop more then four Benjamin Franklin faced bills, but, times have changed. Check with Shure before buying from eBay to make sure that the seller is an authorized dealer, as most are not, even if they claim to be. Shure will fix earphones that are out of warranty or were purchased on the gray market, but they will charge you, so that couple bucks you saved now, might just be a deferred payment for later.
The two most important things in this discussion are sound and fit, both of which are somewhat irrelevant and immune to this review. Some people prefer to have the bass just booming, others prefer to have things that sit on the ear, not in the ear and others are still stubborn about their white cables; these are personal things, things that a review will likely not change. Call a local music shop or audio store and see if they have a pair you can test or know of somewhere – we think you will absolutely love them, but, you are the ultimate judge. With that being said, if you don’t like these your standards are getting so high as even audiophiles adore these amongst the IEM category. These command a five star rating, five gold stars, because after all, they are the gold standard. Available for about $300 on Amazon.